Indian Food: Hand To Mouth

In India, hand-to-mouth dining is what to expect. This traditional way of eating the food in India is practiced widely. The western culture teaches us that eating with our hands is inappropriate. I know that when I was a kid I often heard that don’t touch your food. 

It’s not just that we may feel inconvenient because we are used to having our hands clean at all times but we may find it a bit unusual eating cooked meals only with our hands or be even embarrassed.

Indian people believe that, when you eat with your hands or touch the food before you take a bite, you make a bond with the food and feel more conscious about the food you are going to eat, the aroma and the texture. Not every meal is eaten only by hands though. Of course for the soupy meals where practically eating with hands is impossible, you may use a spoon. Although it may sound simple without cutlery at all on the table, still eating only with your hands it can look a bit messy if you don’t do it the right way. Maybe that’s why Indian cuisine has so many tasty pieces of bread, like the traditional flatbread basmati. Bread is often used to scoop up the curry sauce and rice. It’s a bit easier and better when you can scoop the food with the bread though. The good news is that these pieces of bread like roti, naan, or kulchas (stuffed bread) are unleavened bread and when eaten are dipped into relishes from which the most popular is chutney, a fruit or vegetable jam-relish type mixture. Also, wafers made of rice dough are a very common accompaniment to the meal.

 

Indian food
Indian food served on a banana leaf

The banana-leaf meals are eaten with hands. A cooked vegetable or meat served with rice and sauce on a big banana leaf. These waterproof leaves are very healthy, and when the food is served on them it gives a special aroma and flavor to the dish.

 

Now, how do we do that? Eat with our fingers?

Before you start eating and when done wash your hands. Touch and pass the food only with your right hand while your left hand shouldn’t be at the table at all.

First, take some of the rice and roll it a bit among your fingers, next deep it into the sauce, reach for the veggies or the peace of meat served, lower your head to the plate, or table and put it into your mouth. The thing to know is that the food shouldn’t touch your palm and when taking that bite your mouth shouldn’t touch the fingers at all. It may sound impossible for the newbies but there is a simple thing to follow: you just give a little push to the food with your thumb.

However, if you can’t manage to eat appropriately with your hand it’s always a good idea to take some soup or other meal that requires a spoon. 

 

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Finally, we shouldn’t lick our fingers, it’s very impolite. Instead, in the end, say a few good words to the cook about how delicious the meal was.

 

Most of the Indian people identify themselves as Hindus, while others as Muslim. Muslims don’t eat pork while for Hindus cow is a secret animal thus beef is not included as a meat source in their cuisine, but fish, lamb, chicken or goat. Hindus believe that by eating meat you hurt other animals and that’s why most of them are even Lacto-vegetarian, a diet which is free of meat and rich in dairy products. The menus offered in the Indian restaurants throughout the world are specialties from the northern part of India or the Punjabi kitchen which is recognizable for the meals prepared with chicken and butter. In the southern part though, as in many of the warmer places in the world, a seafood, coconut, and rice are most common and preferred food in the Indians homes. The west Indian kitchen is sweet and vegetarian, while in Goa most of the dishes are of Portuguese origin.

 

Best known Indian dishes:

 

BUTTER CHICKEN

Butter Chicken is a North Indian, Punjabi dish, quite popular in the world. Previously marinated chicken cooked in the oven with butter, various spices, chill paper and ginger.

DAL MAKHANI

Makhani is a Hindustani word meaning with butter. It is used in the names of several dishes from Punjabi cuisine, North India. Dal makhani is made with red beans, butter, makhani gravy, sugar, ginger, paneer (a fresh cheese)  cooked in a slow flame.

CHLOE BHATURE

This Punjabi dish is a combination of chana masala (spicy white chickpeas) and bhatura, a fried bread made from maida flour (soft wheat). Chole bhature is often eaten as a breakfast, sometimes accompanied with lassi (dahi-based drink from milk). It can be a side dish or the main meal that goes with onions, carrot pickle, or green chutney.

DAHI KABAB

A vegetarian snack made from a mixture of boiled potatoes, spices, and green veggies, filled with a curd (or dahi which is milk product usually prepared from a cow) and badam stuffing, then deep fried.  This snack may be served with green chutneys (spicy green Indian sauce made of fresh mint and coriander, garlic, coconut, ginger, acid, and chiles).

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TANDOORI CHICKEN

Tandoori Chicken is one of the most delicious dishes from Mughlai cuisine. The meal is prepared in a tandoor, a cylindrical clay oven, thus the name Tandoori. It’s a roasting chicken marinated in yogurt and spices, garlic, ginger left in a fridge to stay overnight and later cooked.

RASAM

Rasam is a South Indian soup, traditionally prepared using tamarind juice as a base, with tomato, chili pepper, cumin and other spices as seasonings. Steamed lentils can be added along with any preferred vegetables. Rasam meaning soup.

CAFREAL

Chicken curry cooked with coriander, green chilies, and vinegar. This spicy chicken dish originates from Goa, India.

NAAN

Naan is an oven-baked flat Indian bread prepared with white flour, salt, a yeast culture and enough yogurt or milk to make a smooth elastic dough.

IDLI

Savory rice cake, popular as a breakfast food throughout India.

UTTAPAM & DOSA

Uttapam is a thick pancake, with toppings cooked right into the butter. Dosa is a type of pancake made from a fermented butter with main ingredients such as rice and black gram. Masala dosa is made from rice,  potato, methi, onion and curry leaves.

JHOL

Jhol is a traditional quite spicy fish stew from Bengali, seasoned with turmeric, garlic, onions, ginger, and served with rice.

DAAB CHINGARI

A traditional Bengali preparation of prawn curry cooked in mustard and filled inside a green coconut to get a combined flavor of mustard and coconut cream.

RASGULLA

Rasgulla is a dessert made of ball-shaped dumplings of chhena and semolina dough, cooked in a light sugar syrup.

GULAB JAMUN

Gulab jamun is milk-solid-based berry sized balls dunked in a rose flavor sugar syrup. Gulab means rose and jamun berry. Quite popular Indian dessert served at every traditional gettering or festival.

RAH MALAI

Sweet dessert meaning ras for juicy and malai for cream, or juicy cream. These are yellow or white balls of chhana (or curds of cheese) coated in malai cream and flavored with cardamon.

 

read more: INDIA FOOD TOURS